December 8, 2016 — Health officials in Texas have identified an unusual outbreak of mumps in Johnson County, raising concerns about un-vaccinated children and ineffective vaccines.
The Texas Department of State Health reported 28 cases of mumps, with 23 of those cases among school-age children. The outbreak is unusual because no more than 20 cases have occurred in Texas since 2011.
According to the Star-Telegram, the virus may have come from an outbreak in Arkansas where some students visited family about a month ago. Five of them returned with mumps.
Mumps cases are at their highest level in 10 years in the United States. As of November 5, the tally is 2,879 cases in 45 states.
The CDC says the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella is about 78% effective for the first dose, and 88% effective after the second dose.
Oddly, most of these mumps outbreaks are occurring among vaccinated people, according to Dr. Manisha Patel, a medical officer at the CDC. In 2015 and again this year, the CDC recommended that students get a 3rd dose of the MMR vaccine after several outbreaks on college campuses.
The outbreaks could possibly indicate the vaccine is not as effective as it used to be. In 2010, two former virologists at Merck filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that the company hid information that the mumps vaccine had become less effective and did not work as well as advertised.
The whistleblowers also noted that Merck holds an exclusive license to sell the mumps vaccine — an unfair monopoly that discourages competition from companies that might create a better vaccine.
The existence of the whistleblower lawsuit was not made public until 2012, when the U.S. Department of Justice completed a 2-year investigation by declining to participate in the lawsuit.
Last year, those same whistleblowers accused Merck of falsifying data, refusing to answer questions about the current effectiveness of the mumps vaccine, and claiming it is not possible to conduct new clinical trials.
The mumps vaccine was introduced about 50 years ago. Before widespread vaccination programs were introduced in the 1960s, around 180,000 cases of mumps occurred in the U.S. every year.
The virus that causes mumps is extremely contagious. The disease is incurable and causes facial swelling, painful salivary glands, headache, and fatigue. The virus spreads in saliva and mucous.
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